Uffa Fox was an English boat designer and sailing enthusiast, responsible for a number of innovations in boat design. His designs introduced planing hulls and trapezing to dinghy racing, which enhanced the popularity of the sport2. He was the first to develop a reliable rotating mast, and the first to embrace mass-production2.
He was born on the Isle of Wight and was raised in East Cowes. His workshop was located in Cowes. Some of his successful designs include International 14s, the Albacore, Javelin, Flying Fifteen, and Day Sailer6. He was also an author, journalist, painter, sportsman, campaigner, controversial businessman, and friend of royalty4.
He designed boats that won numerous races and set several speed records. He is considered the father of the planing dinghy because he was the first to design a dinghy that could plane, or rise up out of the water and skim across the surface at high speeds. His contributions to the development of planing dinghies and other boats have had a lasting impact on the sport of sailing.
A boat which is planing is skimming along the surface, rising up on its own bow wave, which results in less friction against the water. The power given by the sails has to overcome less resistance, and therefore speed increases dramatically beyond the usual speed limits for a small sailboat.
Fox had a unique perspective on what made a good sailboat. This came from 7 years at a company that made planing powerboats and his “zest for newness”2.
Having worked on high-speed powercraft, including hydroplanes, he believed that if a dinghy hull were made the right shape and her crew held her upright, she could be made to plane over the surface3. He was a little timid about it initially but finally gave his theories full rein with a new design class called the international 14.
The fleets that developed out of the sail-and-oar boats were isolated and disorganised. There were pockets of activity, but fleets generally seem to have been small and confined to small areas.
The long era of quiet seems to have ended in 1923, when the National 14 class was formed to allow the classes of 14 footers that had quietly grown in different parts of the country (mainly the Norfolk Dinghy and the West of England Conference Dinghy) to race together under a complicated set of rules that allowed for different weights, construction types and sail areas.Pt 1.6: “Fox hunting”: Uffa, Avenger and the planing dinghy
The International 14 is a British racing sailboat, crewed by two sailors. It is a high-performance, two-man, development racing dinghy with a long history of performance developments that have often been adopted in the design of later boats. The design became an international World Sailing class in 192816.
The design rules and the boats themselves have changed dramatically over time to keep the International 14 at the leading edge of sailing technology. Many designers have contributed to the boat, including Uffa Fox.
The International 14 is not currently an Olympic class sailing dinghy. However, the design is supported by an active class club that organizes racing events, the International 14 Class Association. There are 14 active fleets sailing in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US1.
Uffa’s first major successes as a designer were in the National 14 racing dinghy class. In Cowes Week 1925 Ariel, his first design, won every race in her class. Rodicut, his second design, achieved second in the race for the Prince of Wales cup in 1927.
Uffa was the father of the planing dinghy. In 1927 he designed and built Avenger, which was far ahead of her time. With the deep V-shaped hull for the first third of her length he introduced a new feature into such boats.
In 1928, Uffa gained line honors in every race he sailed in Avenger, his International Fourteen. Of her 57 starts, she gained 52 first places including the Prince of Wales Cup, two seconds, and three third places.
Avenger was the first true planing dinghy with a good windward performance. Designed to be fast and agile, and it quickly became a popular racing dinghy. Avenger was not only fast but also seaworthy. Uffa sailed her 100 miles across the Channel to Le Havre, France, and claimed a victory over the French on their home waters. Uffa Fox’s Avenger was a significant milestone in the history of sailboat design, and it paved the way for the development of other planing dinghies.
All of Uffa’s triumphs were greatly assisted by the fact that he was himself a first-class helmsman.
Following the success of the Fourteens he applied the concept to other classes. He used his experience with these dinghies to design and build a sailing canoe. He won both the American championship for paddling and sailing and the New York International Canoe Championship in 1933.
Prior to the Second World War, Uffa had established his name primarily in the world of dinghies; his designs dominated the National Twelves, Fourteens and Eighteens.
During the Second World War, Uffa conceived the idea of the first parachuted Airborne Lifeboat. This vessel was carried beneath aeroplanes and dropped by parachute to survivors of ditched aircraft. The Airbornes had sails, engine, survival kit and instructions on how to sail them.
Many aircrews owed their lives to Uffa’s invention. For all his success in the field of yacht racing he maintained that this was his most fulfilling design.
Immediately after the war he was closely associated with Fairey Marine of Hamble who built hot moulded boats to his design.
His 12-foot Firefly won the Royal Yachting Association design competition and was selected as a class for the 1948 Olympics. He then turned his attention to the creation of the Flying Fifteen, a successful boat with which he achieved all his ambitions. The town of Cowes presented Coweslip, a Flying Fifteen, to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who sailed her with Uffa, as did Prince Charles. Coweslip can be seen at the Classic Boat Museum.
Throughout his life he wrote a considerable number of articles, and published some ten books on maritime matters. He recorded rendering of various sea shanties, and was a Scout Master with the Cowes Sea Scouts. He was appointed a royal designer for industry in 1955.
In 1956, Fox designed the hull for American boat builder George O’Day’s Day Sailer which is still in production and will be the most produced Fox design.
UFFA Fox was made a CBE in 1959. CBE stands for Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which is a British order of chivalry awarded by the monarch to individuals who have made significant contributions to the arts, sciences, charity, or public service. Uffa Fox was awarded the CBE in recognition of his contributions to yacht design and sailing2.
Javelin: A 14-foot dinghy designed by Uffa Fox was built by O’Day from 1961 to 19701.
In 1968 Uffa designed the 22-foot Atlantic rowboat Britannia, in which John Fairfax rowed across the Atlantic.
Was Uffa Fox a Genius?
Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Uffa Fox benefited from biographies. Written accounts of his work were published with assistance from his first wife.
Uffa Fox authored several books throughout his career. Some of his most notable books include:
- “Sailing Boats” (1938)
- “Sailing, Seamanship and Yacht Construction” (1948)
- “The Crest of the Wave” (1950)
- “Uffa Fox’s Second Book” (1952)
- “Best of Uffa: Fifty Great Yacht Designs from the Uffa Fox Books” (1978)
According to1, Fox’s first wife, Alma, played a large part in the preparation of much of his five pre-war books. These books covered a variety of topics related to sailing and boat design, and they were well-received by both sailors and boat builders.
Frank Bethwaite, an Australian sailboat designer, meteorologist, and sailing scientist who passed away in 2012 stated:
“in his books and in the media of the time he wrote about this new way of sailing….the credit (for inventing the planing dinghy) has always gone to Uffa Fox…because he wrote about and explained what he was doing”.Pt 1.6: “Fox hunting”: Uffa, Avenger and the planing dinghy
Bethwaite’s book “High Performance Sailing” is regarded by many, including myself, as the definitive work of sailing speed.
The new way of sailing involved keeping the race boat on its optimum heel so that puffs of wind did not change the shape the vessel presented to the water. To do this, the athlete plays the main sail like a fly fisherman would their line and rod and shifts weight in concert with wind intensity. Instead of heading up in wind puffs, Uffa realized that falling off would allow the properly designed vessel to crest its bow wake and plane – effectively doubling speed. Instead of sailing directly down wind to make a mark, Uffa advocated gybing in a zig zag path to maintain planing speed. He showed that the fastest way to a directly down wind mark was not the straight line, if the vessel could plane.
Like Leonardo Da Vince, Uffa Fox educated royals. Uffa Fox trained several Royals to sail, including:
- His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh: Prince Philip and Fox became friends in 1949 and raced together frequently at Cowes Week aboard Fox’s Dragon “Fresh Breeze” or the Duke’s ‘Royal’ Dragon “Bluebottle”25.Prince Philip also owned a Flying Fifteen that was sailed regularly in Cowes Week by the Prince and Uffa Fox3.
- The royal children: Uffa Fox was a sailing master to the Royal Family and taught the royal children to sail14.
Yachting was slow to recover after the Second World War, but in July 1947 Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of Princess Elizabeth to a young navy man who was mad about boats. Members of the Island Sailing Club in Cowes on the Isle of Wight bought a Dragon Class yacht for the couple as a wedding present. The Duke of Edinburgh fell upon the gift with an enthusiasm that gratified not only the ISC, but sailors everywhere. Suddenly, after the dark days of the war, their passion was being shared by one of the most glamorous and charismatic members of the royal family.
The Duke called his new boat Bluebottle. At Cowes he would happily pose for press pictures with the new boat if the photographers would keep out of his way on the water. But this, to his great annoyance, was to change.
He was still a serving naval officer and Princess Elizabeth had royal duties, so time for sailing was short. The future queen made one brief outing on Bluebottle, but mostly the boat was sailed by a sailing master and the Duke. Around this time he struck up a friendship with Uffa Fox, designer of the Flying Fifteen and other famous boats. “Uffa was a genius with a sailing boat,” the Duke later wrote. The people of Cowes presented him with a Flying Fifteen designed by Fox that he named Coweslip. She was kept at Fox’s yard and when the Royal Yacht Britannia became a regular visitor to Cowes Week, the Duke would take a launch from the ship straight to Coweslip’s mooring.
Then came Bloodhound. Built in 1936, this 19 metre yawl was bought by the Duke and the Queen in 1962 and refitted for cruising and racing. Although the Queen sailed Bloodhound rarely, the yacht was very much part of the royal family’s life. The Duke raced her with Uffa Fox, and when Britanniatook the family for their summer cruise around the Western Isles, Bloodhound went too. She was sailed by the Duke during the day with the royal children and their friends.How modern monarchs are keeping the sailing tradition alive
1 June 2022 • Written by Keith Dovkants
Uffa Fox had a close relationship with the Island Sailing Club in Cowes, which is located on the Isle of Wight. The club was founded in 1889 and has a long and rich history of sailing and racing. The Island Sailing Club still exists today and is a popular venue for sailing events and races. It is one of the combined clubs responsible for running Cowes Week, one of the UK’s longest-running and most successful sporting events1.
Cowes Week is hosted under the Cowes Combined Clubs organization, which means that the event is run by all the yacht clubs in Cowes that take it in turns to run the daily races. The Cowes Combined Clubs has nine members, including eight yacht clubs and one dinghy club. The member clubs are:
- Royal Yacht Squadron Racing
- Royal Thames Yacht Club
- Royal Southern Yacht Club
- Island Sailing Club
- Royal London Yacht Club
- Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club
- Royal Ocean Racing Club
- Royal Victoria Yacht Club
- Cowes Town Regatta/Dinghy Week
The Cowes Combined Clubs was formed in 1964 to coordinate the racing, and each of the member clubs has a role to play in running the event. Uffa Fox played a role in the formation of Cowes Combined Clubs (CCC).
Cowes Week is a historic regatta that has been held in August every year since 1826, except during the two World Wars. Over the years, the regatta has been visited by royalty and other world-famous personalities, as well as naval warships, superyachts, and square-riggers. Prince Philip, Uffa Fox’s student, was the catalyst behind the formation of Cowes Combined Clubs, the organization which lies behind Cowes Week1. He was elected a Member of the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1947 and became a Flag Officer in 19521.
Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Uffa Fox was responsible for events that continued past his death in 1972. Both have been called true Renaissance men for significant contributions to their fields of study and neither attended a university.
Leonardo Da Vinci was born out of wedlock and only legitimate sons were allowed to be formally educated. Hence, Leonardo’s father paid to have him apprenticed at a sculpture shop. Uffa grew up on the banks of Cowes. Uffa Fox did not have an opportunity to go to a university. After finishing school, he began an apprenticeship with SE Saunders, a boatbuilder on the Isle of Wight1. During the First World War he served in the Royal Naval Air Service for nearly two years.
In 1919 Uffa Fox Ltd, was started as a boat design and consultancy firm1. He acquired an old ‘floating bridge which had linked Cowes to East Cowes for a workshop. The company was successful and designed boats for a variety of clients, including the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and private individuals3. The early years of the company were quite interesting.
Fox and his wife lived on a converted chain ferry that also served as the company’s shop. He acquired an aged ‘floating bridge’ which had linked Cowes to East Cowes by means of a chain that counteracted the strong river and tidal currents. The central part of the floating bridge was covered over to provide a workshop.
The middle provided the workshop, the bow at one end formed a gangway to the shore, and the other end became a slipway for launching boats into the river. The passenger accomodation was converted to a drawing room and living space. This bridge was built in 1896 and was known as the “Winter Bridge”.
Uffa had a free and adventurous spirt. For some time, Uffa lived on the converted former floating bridge, moving it from one side of the river to the other to avoid the rate collecting authorities12. Uffa Fox, basically under employed, volunteered as a leader for the sea scouts.
In July 1921, Fox and a crew of nine sea scouts departed for the western Solent in a 27-foot (8.2 m) open whaler under the parental expectation that they were on a camping/sailing trip. He decided to extend the itinerary up the Seine towards Paris. In seven days, they traveled within 70 kilometers of the city when they turned around to return another five days later. After being met by the coast guard as presumed castaways, Fox was relieved of his role in the sea scouts.Uffa Fox Wikipedia
On Saturday, 30 July 1921, with a crew of nine sea scouts, Uffa set sail for what their parents’ thought was a few days camping trip around the Solent. Uffa had other plans! He aimed to sail “Valhalla”, their 27-foot (8.2 m) open whaler all the way to Paris. He had trained his crew and had great confidence that they would make it.
On Monday, 1 August at 7.20am they saw the French mainland and landed at Le Havre at 12.30pm. They reached Rouen the next day.
On Saturday, 6 August, within just 44 miles (70 kilometres) of Paris they decided to turn back. They reached Ventnor at 9.00pm on Wednesday, 10 August, finally arriving home at Marvin’s Yard, Cowes, at 5.00pm on the Thursday.
Not everyone agreed with Uffa that the adventure had been a great success and he was relieved of his post as Scoutmaster.
Following the success of the Fourteens in 1928, Uffa Fox applied the concept proven in Avenger to other classes. A large order book was soon built up and for many years his were the most sought after designs.
Fox redeemed himself with the sea scouts by 1944. According to1, in 1944, during World War II, Uffa Fox was asked to design a boat that could be used by the Sea Scouts to patrol the Solent, the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England. Fox designed a 26-foot whaler that was built by the Sea Scouts themselves. The boat was named “Foxcub” in honor of its designer. The Sea Scouts used the boat to patrol the Solent and to rescue downed airmen and sailors. The boat is now part of the collection of the Classic Boat Museum at East Cowes, Isle of Wight.
Did Uffa Fox work with America boat builder George O’Day? What boats were collaborations with George O’Day
Yes, Uffa Fox worked with American boat builder George O’Day. They collaborated on the design of the Day Sailer, a popular family sloop that was first conceived in 1956 by O’Day and designed by Uffa Fox in close collaboration with O’Day3. The collaboration between Uffa Fox and George O’Day began in the mid-1950s when O’Day, who was the US agent for Fairey Marine boats, contacted Fox regarding a concept for a boat3. O’Day commissioned Fox to design an easily handled, easily trailed family sloop, which became the Day Sailer2
Fox designed the hull, while the original cuddy was designed and molded by O’Day and his company256.The Day Sailer has been built by several builders and with a number of changes along the way, but the basic hull design has remained the same5.
The Day Sailer, designed by Uffa Fox and George O’Day, was well-received when it was first introduced in 1956. The boat was designed to be an easily handled, easily trailed family sloop, and it quickly became popular for both pleasure sailing and racing126. The design was based on 32 specific requirements that O’Day had identified, and Fox is credited with introducing the technique of planing to the design, which allowed the boat to reach higher speeds1.The Day Sailer has been in continuous production for over 60 years, and over 10,000 boats have been built6. The boat is still popular today and is sailed throughout North America and Brazil6.
George O’Day was a prolific boat builder who created many boats during his career. Some of the boats he created include:
- O’Day Day Sailer: Designed by Uffa Fox in the UK, this 16′ 9” family sloop was commissioned by O’Day in 1959 and became one of his most successful boats. Over 12,000 Day Sailers have been built, and the boat is still in production today156.
- O’Day Tempest: A 22-foot keelboat designed by Ray Hunt and built by O’Day from 1965 to 19701.
- O’Day Javelin: A 14-foot dinghy designed by Uffa Fox and built by O’Day from 1961 to 19701.
- O’Day Mariner: A 19-foot sloop designed by Philip Rhodes and built by O’Day from 1963 to 19721.
While Uffa Fox is best known for his collaboration with George O’Day on the Day Sailer, he also worked with other boat builders during his career. Some of the other boat builders he worked with include:
- Fairey Marine: Fox designed several boats for Fairey Marine, including the Firefly and Albacore dinghies3.
- Coweslip Workshops: Fox worked with Coweslip Workshops to design and build several boats, including the Coweslip Club Cruiser and the Coweslip 213.
- Various clients: Fox designed boats for a variety of clients, including the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and private individuals3.
What is the history of the Commodore’s House in Cowes
The Commodore’s House is a historic building located in Cowes, Isle of Wight. It has a rich and fascinating history, including the following:
- The house was once lived in by Uffa Fox, a famous British boat designer and sailor12.
- The house has stood proudly over the water of Cowes since the 18th century1.
- At one time, the house housed public baths, and it is rumored that Napoleon III bathed here in the 1870s2.
- The foundations of the house had been built directly off the ancient foreshore, and constant battering of the waves had shifted the rock boulders and clay beneath the house4.
- The house is a unique venue that combines fascinating history with outstanding harbor views123.
- The house is a popular wedding, party, and event venue, and it is available for tours1236.
- The current owner of the house is unclear, but it is not known to be the commodore of the Royal Thames Yacht Club1.
- According to the Royal Thames Yacht Club’s website34, the current Vice Commodore of the club is Tony Hanna.
The house has a rich and fascinating history, but it is primarily known for its association with Fox,
The Commodore’s House was once lived in by Uffa Fox and is a unique venue combining fascinating history with outstanding harbour views. At one time it housed public baths and rumour has it that Napoleon III bathed here in the 1870’s. Recent excavations have revealed large pieces of slate that were probably parts of a bath.
It was used by Hewitt’s the grocers as a warehouse for 200 years. In the last century, the J class yachts moored in Cowes Roads, were provisioned from the Commodore’s House. It was purchased by Uffa Fox in 1948, who converted the warehouse into a combined home, office and boatyard.
Draughtsmen used to work in the drawing office upstairs, and wooden boats were built in the boathouse. Prince Philip’s Flying Fifteen “Coweslip” was kept on the quay and was hoisted by crane into the water for racing in the Solent.
The house is situated right on the waterfront. The view is unique, because Cowes is alive with small boats, and big ships pass close by on their way into Southampton.
Uffa Fox sold the house to the Terry family but continued to live there as if it was his own. After his death the drawing office was closed as the Terry’s moved in their furniture, and generally cleaned up the house. The bottom floor where Uffa had built Flying Fifteens and his motor launch, named Ankle Deep, remained unkept. It had an ugly boiler, coal stores, and was full of junk. It could hardly have been used as living space, having huge concrete columns recently commissioned in the hope of preventing the house from collapsing. But the Flying Fifteen class did manage to hold their Cowes Week cocktail party on the quay…
John Terry had remembered the early parties on the quay and took advantage of the reconstruction to clear up the bottom of the house, level the floors and turn it into a combined boathouse and event room. 1